Matt Bersano is a Redshirt Senior at Penn State University completing his Masters degree after graduating from Oregon State this past winter. Matt will be blogging for us at The Athlete Story over the course of the next few months detailing his quest to become a professional soccer player. Find out what Matt did this past spring to stay fit and prepare himself for his Senior season in his second post "My Extended Preseason". If you missed Matt's first post "My Plan" you can read it (LINK).
My Extended Preseason
Matt Bersano, Reno FC 1868 goalkeeper
January 2015 was one hot mess.
I had just graduated from OSU and was released from my homegrown rights by Real Salt Lake almost simultaneously. I didn’t know what was next. I had already decided that I would transfer schools but still needed a place to train and play until the Fall season started. Luckily for me I had two great mentors, John Galas of Lane United PDL and Stan Anderson of the Chicago Fire that helped shape the coming months. John Galas managed to get me in contact with John Pascarella, the Goalkeeper Coach of Sporting Kansas City, who invited me to be a part of their preseason.
Sporting KC had three GKs signed and I would come to preseason as the fourth GK for trainings with the first team. This was very beneficial for me because it gave me a chance to stay fit and to be a part of an MLS preseason.
Preseason lasted from January 26 to March 2. Previously I had only spent limited time with MLS organizations as an academy or college player training with the first team (I had spent time in preseason with RSL, the Chicago Fire and Sporting KC over the past few years). This was the first time that I got to be a part of an entire preseason with an MLS organization.
Transitioning from college trainings to professional ones bring all kinds of challenges on the field. The ball comes in much faster and the speed of play is ridiculous. As an unrostered college player I initially felt little connection with the squad. I felt insecure and as if I was being judged by my every move. I couldn’t let down for one moment because I wanted to show that I belonged there. Towards the end of February this all changed and I began to play with confidence. This was largely due to the SKC players bringing me into the group and treating me like they would any other rookie. I want to thank them for that.
The goalkeeper sessions with SKC were amazing. We started 15-20 minutes before the rest of the team which allowed us to get all our necessary work in before we were needed in the team training; whether that was in shooting drills, possession, or open play. The majority of the shooting drills were a free for all. The best advice I was given was from starting GK Tim Melia, “save what you can save.” There was no point in getting discouraged during a drill. There was always another ball that would be coming in that had to be dealt with next.
Going into my senior season, I felt confident in my abilities because I had been doing it with professional players for the last five weeks. I could handle shots at a faster pace than anything I’d seen before and I was learning the consistency necessary to stay in the top league in the country. I had spent the last month working individually with Pascarella on my weaknesses, like hip mobility or springing for an extension dive, in turn testing my mental strength unlike any of my past playing days. Leaving preseason I felt more ready mentally than I had ever felt in my college career.
After preseason with SKC wrapped up I had an opportunity to head to Spain to train with a few different teams in the Third Division and Segunda B. I left for Spain three days after preseason ended with SKC.
A majority of my time in Spain was spent with Third Division teams Cullera F.C. and Saguntinos who are based just outside of Valencia. My time in Spain was a real eye opener. There are many things we take for granted in college or the MLS that aren’t necessarily commonplace in the rest of the world. When you have a scholarship at a university, it gets paid on a certain date. When you need more gear for a rainy training session a simple talk with the equipment manager will fix your problem. When you break a pair of cleats a new pair is provided almost instantly. In Spain, this wasn’t the case.
Three of the four clubs that I spent time with in Spain were struggling with their financials. They weren’t able to give trialists matching team gear for training and some clubs even had issues paying the signed players their monthly salaries while I was there. Only two of the clubs had a goalkeeper coach and almost every training session took place on artificial turf. Being overseas was completely new to me, but the amateurish nature of these Third Division clubs made me want to push even harder for a contract back home in the MLS.
Not many college athletes are able to partake in these kind of professional experiences while still being a college player. Even though I hadn’t signed a contract, I felt like a pro. This was a very humbling experience for me because even though I may feel one way, I still meant nothing to the club. I was so close, but I still had work to do to make sure my next experience in preseason would be with my future employer rather than my host for the month.